Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 15, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

I hope you are enjoying your Chanukah celebrations. Jewish communities all around the Eurasia region, from Siberia to Poland, are celebrating, too. In this week's update, we've included a few snapshots of their Chanukah celebrations.

NCSEJ's own Connie Smukler is featured in an article in the Jewish Exponent this week, highlighting an exhibit on the Soviet Jewry movement at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Congratulations, Connie!

The Senate has passed the JUST Act (Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today). The act provides greater opportunities for survivors to claim restitution and retrieve property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Gideon Taylor authored an op-ed in The Hill on the urgency of this matter and it is included in the articles this week.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin held his annual press conference this week, in which he answered questions from the media and the public. President Putin announced last week that he will run as an independent in next year's presidential elections, to be held on March 18, 2018.

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are working together to resolve differences over WWII-era historical disputes regarding inter-ethnic violence. It is our hope that both governments will begin to address the concerns of their Jewish communities and cease historical revisionism regarding collaboration of locals with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

It's not too late to send in your donation to NCSEJ's annual Chanukah Appeal. For those who have already contributed, I offer my profound thanks. Our work is impossible without your support. To donate, please follow this link, send a check to our office at 1120 20th St NW, Suite 300N, Washington, DC 20036, or contact David Shulman at 202-898-2500 or dshulman@ncsej.org.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. December 15, 2017

JDC Chanukah Celebrations Bring Out Thousands across the Former Soviet Union

E Jewish Philanthropy, December 11, 2017

This Chanukah, thousands of Jews in the former Soviet Union will celebrate the annual Festival of Lights by partaking in holiday celebrations and menorah lightings, concerts, holiday meals, and Jewish cultural workshops at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) network of Hesed social welfare centers and Jewish community centers. Scores of JDC-trained volunteers of all ages are leading these Chanukah activities, a growing trend in the former Soviet Union.

“It’s no small miracle that Chanukah’s theme of bringing light to the darkness is being fully realized today by enthusiastic volunteers and thriving Jewish communities that have emerged a full generation after the fall of Communism. Our celebrations across the former Soviet Union, and around the world, are reminders that Chanukah’s message of perseverance and triumph in the face of the odds is still resonant today,” said David Schizer, JDC CEO.

Prime Minister of Estonia to celebrate Chanukah at EJCC

European Jewish Press, December 13, 2017

In light of the closure of the Estonian Presidency of the European Union, and right before the opening of the European Summit, the European Jewish Community Center (EJCC) and the European Jewish Associaton organize Wednesday a special Chanukah lighting with Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas.

Chanukah is a holiday which was celebrated by Jewish families across Europe for over 2000 years in times of peace as in times of adversity.

Its message is that "a small light has the power to dispel much darkness" and encourages people to share the unique and special light to better this world. By this celebration we want to communicate that Europe's diversity can be its strength when we share and learn from each other.

Read the full article here.

Hanukkah candles lit in Polish parliament

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 13, 2017

The Polish parliament held a candle lighting on the first night of Hanukkah.

The ceremony was held Tuesday evening shortly after the inaugural address by the new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who has Jewish roots.

Among those on hand were Morawiecki’s father, Kornel Morawiecki; parliament speaker Marek Kuchciński; the ambassador of Israel in Warsaw, Anna Azari; and representatives of Jewish organizations. The prime minister came to the ceremony after his address to offer good wishes in honor of the holiday t0 Chabad Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Stambler.

Kuchcinski said celebrating Hanukkah in the Sejm has become a custom.

Read the full article here.

‘A Well-Kept Secret’: NMAJH Pop-up Exhibit, ADL Event Explores Soviet Jewry Movement

By Marissa Stern

Jewish Exponent, December 14, 2017

Dmitry Goldenberg was 9 when he immigrated to America. He grew up in Siberia and later Ukraine before moving to Philadelphia with his parents.

While he recalls difficult times in his childhood — being unable to disclose that he was Jewish and family members facing prejudiced treatment — his family’s experience moving here in 1994 was much less difficult than those of his ancestors and many other Jews trying to leave the Soviet Union a few decades earlier.

He led a conversation with Connie Smukler, perhaps the face of Philadelphia’s involvement with the Soviet Jewry movement, as part of an event series called Life Lessons in Leadership, an initiative of the AntiDefamation League Philadelphia’s Associate Board. The event was in partnership with AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Smukler shared stories of her history with the movement, like being questioned by KGB officers at the airport upon leaving or smuggling cassette tapes of conversations with refuseniks out of Russia, on Dec. 7 at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Read the full article here.

Kennan Cable No. 28: Russian and U.S. Roles in the Middle East: An Israeli’s Perspective

By Yuri Teper

Kennan Institute, December 12, 2017

In recent years the Middle East has undergone major upheavals that saw dramatic changes in the roles played by the United States and Russia. Since 2009, Russia’s influence in the Middle East has greatly increased, while American influence has declined. This dynamic has raised concern among many U.S. and other Western observers and spurred much debate over its causes. It is particularly illuminating to look at this issue from the perspective of America’s principal ally in the region, Israel. The view from Israel is especially valuable because of the unique position that country currently holds in its relations with Russia and the United States. Israel’s traditionally close ties with the United States were undermined by deep differences and mistrust between the Obama administration and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. At the same time, despite profound contradictions in interests and agenda, Israel has developed a rather close security coordination with Russia.

Read the full article here.

Trump’s Decision on Jerusalem Might Open the Door for Russia

By Alexei Khlebnikov

The Moscow Times, December 12, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump made one of the most contentious foreign policy announcements of his tenure in the White House on Dec. 6: Washington, he said, was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Minutes after his speech, leaders across the Middle East and the world jumped to express surprise and discontent. Muslims in capital cities across the world took to the streets.

For Russia, whose stance on the conflict is in line with the international community, the move signaled an opportunity to deepen its role as a power broker in the Middle East. Its response to Trump’s announcement was firm.

Read the full article here.

Russia’s Media Monitor Moves To Block Websites of ‘Undesirable’ Organizations

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 12, 2017

Russia's Roskomnadzor media regulatory agency has begun blocking access to websites of organizations deemed "undesirable" by the Justice Ministry under a 2015 law aimed at restricting the activity of organizations the Kremlin accuses of fomenting political dissent.

The regulator's website on December 12 posted a notice that it had received a demand from the Prosecutor-General's Office to restrict access to Internet sites that "distribute information from organizations deemed undesirable in Russia."

It does not mention any organizations by name, but there are currently 11 organizations on the list.

On December 11, the authorities blocked access to several websites of Open Russia, a democracy and civil-society NGO founded by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Official Says Upcoming Deadline For New Russian Sanctions Will Be Met

By Mike Eckel

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 12, 2017

A top U.S. State Department official said the administration was committed to meeting a February deadline to specify new measures against Russia officials and influential businessmen for Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

The December 12 remarks by Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, come amid doubts that President Donald Trump will fulfill the sanctions that were backed by Congress in legislation passed earlier this year.

After an October deadline was missed, Republican and Democratic senators pressed the Treasury Department and the White House to move forward on the measure.

Read the full article here.

U.S.-Russia arms control was possible once – is it possible still?

By Strobe Talbott

Brookings, December 12, 2017

Thirty years ago last week, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, resulting in the elimination of some 2,700 U.S. and Soviet ground-launched intermediate-range missiles. To mark the occasion, my colleagues Alina Polyakova and Steve Pifer—along with Olga Oliker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies—and I gathered at Brookings to look back on what the historic treaty achieved and examine its uncertain future.

Today, that agreement and others are unraveling. A brief look at how American and Russian negotiators managed to get to “yes” in 1987 can illuminate a path forward despite—or, more to the point, because of—current troubled U.S.-Russian relations.

Read the full article here.

Putin blames Trump’s political opponents for poor U.S.-Russian relations

By Andrew Roth and David Filipov

Washington Post, December 14, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he doubted President Trump would be able to improve relations between their two countries because Trump was being held back by his political opposition.

Trump undoubtedly has had some successes as president, including a booming U.S. stock market, Putin said. But, he asserted, reports about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election were being invented to create questions about his U.S. counterpart’s legitimacy.

“There are things that he would want to do but hasn’t been able to so far, like reforming health care or other goals. For instance, he spoke about improving relations with Russia,” Putin said in remarks carried on national television. “It’s clear that, even if he wanted to, he’s not in a condition to do that because of some clear restrictions” created by his opponents.

“I don’t know if he still wants [to improve relations with Russia], or if it’s totally exhausted, but I hope he still does,” Putin added.

Putin’s Re-election Is Assured. Let the Succession Fight Begin.

By Neil MacFarquhar,

New York Times, December 11, 2017

Ask Russian analysts to describe the coming campaign for the March 2018 presidential election and their answers contain a uniform theme: a circus, a carnival, a sideshow.

With the victory of President Vladimir V. Putin assured, the real contest, they say, is the bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred fight to determine who or what comes after him by the end of his next six years in office, in 2024. What might be called the Court of Putin — the top 40 to 50 people in the Kremlin and their oligarch allies — will spend the next presidential term brawling over that future.

When Mr. Putin confirmed last week that he would run again, he might as well have been firing the starting gun for the race toward his succession. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, his fifth total, in 2024.

Read the full article here.

Kazakhstan reiterates support for UN resolutions concerning status of Jerusalem

By Aigerem Seisembayeva

The Astana Times, December 14, 2017

Kazakh Senate Chair Kassym-Jomart Tokayev told an emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Dec. 13 that Kazakhstan supports UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly resolutions regarding the status of East Jerusalem as an integral part of the State of Palestine.

“Kazakhstan welcomes all peacekeeping efforts aimed at the final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the establishment of a comprehensive peace in the region,” he said.

He also said Jerusalem will always remain the focal point of the main shrines of the three main religions and that Jerusalem is the property of all humankind. He said people have the right to live in that sacred place in peace and mutual understanding.

Read the full article here.

Tbilisi’s Jewish community keeps active with Israeli tourists, and Chabad meals

By Jessica Steinberg

Times of Israel, December 9, 2017

It was a crisp Friday night in October when my husband and I walked to the Chabad House on Kote Afghazi Street in Tbilisi, the main tourist drag in the city’s Old Town, lined with wine stores and tourist shops selling Georgian tchotchkes.

We were heading to dinner, but first tagged along with a group of Israelis from Holon who were making their way first to the nearby Georgian Synagogue in their jeans and sweatshirts, some with yarmulkes perched on their heads.

It wasn’t our first sighting of Israelis in Georgia, where I was on a quick, five-day jaunt to discover why the country has become so appealing to the Israeli traveler, including a Shabbat in Tbilisi.

Read the full article here.

Senate unanimously passes bill to help Holocaust survivors obtain restitution, seized assets

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 12, 2017

The Senate unanimously passed a bill to help Holocaust survivors and the families of victims obtain restitution or the return of Holocaust-era assets.

The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today, or JUST Act, which was introduced in February by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., received unanimous approval on Tuesday.

The measure requires the State Department to report on the progress of certain European countries toward the return of or restitution for wrongfully confiscated or transferred Holocaust-era assets, including property, art and other movable property. It also requires a report specifically on progress on the resolution of claims for U.S. citizen Holocaust survivors and family members.

Read the full article here.

‘Time is of the essence’ for Holocaust survivors

By Gideon Taylor

The Hill, December 14, 2017

Sending a powerful message to countries across Europe on the eve of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, a unanimous U.S. Senate voted to help Holocaust survivors and their families around the globe secure a measure of justice.

On Dec. 12, the Senate passed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act. The JUST Act would require the U.S. State Department to report on the implementation by countries of an international declaration to help people identify and reclaim properties wrongfully seized during and in the aftermath of World War II.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and in the House by Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), all of them reaching across the aisle to right a historical wrong.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine, Poland move to mend ties trained by views on WWII

Associated Press/Washington Post, December 13, 2017

The presidents of Ukraine and Poland have met to find ways of overcoming the World War II legacy that sours relations between the neighboring countries.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and visiting President Andrzej Duda of Poland laid flowers on Wednesday at a monument to Polish soldiers killed by Soviet security forces in 1940.

Duda says they discussed bringing in peacekeepers as a step in ending the armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

New Polish prime minister refers to rescue of ‘Jewish brothers’ in his inaugural address

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 12, 2017

In his first speech as Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki said that non-Jewish Poles who saved their “Jewish brothers” during the Holocaust represent the “essence of what it means to be Polish.”

Morawiecki, a former banker who in September spoke about his Jewish roots – two of his aunts are Jewish — in a speech about rescuers of Jews in Warsaw, presented his inaugural address Tuesday to the parliament.

The remark about Jews was unusual because of the reference as brethren and the de facto head of state including the subject in an inaugural address.

Morawiecki, who was the finance minister before his promotion in a surprising reshuffle in the government of the right-wing ruling Law and Justice Party, spoke mostly about the economy and foreign relations.

Polish Jews Torn Over Government’s Emphasis on Righteous Neighbors

By Ofer Aderet

Haaretz, December 8, 2017

At first glance, the ceremony last month in Torun, northern Poland, looked ordinary. No one was surprised that a number of VIPs, among them Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, took the trouble to travel to the Polish city where 500 years ago one of the most famous Poles in history was born: Copernicus.

The purpose of the ceremony was to pay respect to 1,170 Poles, about whom it was claimed that they were killed by the Nazis after saving Jews during the Holocaust. Their names are carved into a memorial called the Chapel of Remembrance built about a year ago in a Torun church.

“We, as Jews, must attend such events, to say thank you and show that we aren’t ungrateful,” a former Yesh Atid MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman, told Haaretz this week. Lipman was present at the ceremony.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.